Go to any of the Maine lobster boat races and you’ll find a collection of characters. There’s the fisherman racing a strictly working lobster boat. There’s nothing special about the engine; it’s got power enough to go to the grounds and back, and in between haul as many traps as necessary. Even though he knows he probably won’t win, he’s like most Down East lobstermen and just loves boats, engines, the noise of a race and a general good time.
Then there’s the guy pushing the envelope a little bit by dumping a lot of money into a big engine; I mean, who needs a 1,000 horsepower engine to haul traps? Well, you need that horsepower if you crave racing and everything that goes with it — the nervousness, the noise, the speed and the excitement. He knows he has to use that engine every working day, but it’s sized mostly with racing in mind.
Then there are those who fudge things a lot more in their desire to win. They claim one horsepower rating, yet it doesn’t seem possible they are staying up with or beating boats with engines acknowledged to be much more powerful. Those are the guys people are always wondering about.
What’s common to the three sets of lobstermen is that for an afternoon in the spotlight they risk destroying an engine that they earn their daily living with. And that’s all right — well maybe not after they send a piston out the side of a block, but in the moment, it’s fine.
Then there are the so-called “toy boats.” These look like lobster boats but aren’t used for lobstering. There’s no attempt to disguise the fact that what looks like a stock engine on the outside is anything but on the inside. The engine might run propane, nitrous oxide or have been sent to a speed shop and returned with components most lobstermen couldn’t afford and many have never heard of.
Then there’s Stevie Johnson, a Long Island, Maine, boatbuilder whose whimsical take on racing always gets attention. Back in 2009, Johnson had the “cah-boat” — eliminating the “r” in Maine-speak — which was a 26-foot cabin cruiser with its top cut off and replaced with a deck. A 1994 Pontiac Sunbird convertible was chained down to the deck. A couple of 200-hp outboards hung from the transom and Johnson steered from the Pontiac’s front seat.
He also has shown up at races in the Tiki boat, which is, as the name suggests, nothing more than a Caribbean bar powered by outboards.
Then at last Saturday’s Maine lobster boat race held at Long Island, Johnson came up to the starting line in his latest creation, the Wild Woman, a “sailing” race boat. Sailing is in quotations because it’s not really a sailboat. It’s a 28-foot O’Day sailboat, cut off at the waterline and then fiberglassed down to what was the platform for the cah-boat. A pair of 200-hp Yamahas hangs off the stern.
Another way you know Wild Woman is not you typical O’Day sailboat is that in her race with Miss. Karlee, a Mitchell Cove with a 1,000-hp Caterpillar C18, they were bow-to-bow — in the mid-40 mph range — throughout most of the race, with Wild Woman finally taking it at the end. No wonder that race was called the “wildest race of the day.”